Obama commutes sentences of 79 inmates

Obama commutes sentences of 79 inmates
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President Obama on Tuesday commuted the prison sentences of 79 inmates as part of a clemency effort that appears to be moving at rapid speed.

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Obama has shortened the prison stays of 351 federal inmates since the beginning of October. The pace indicates that Obama is intent on using his remaining time in office to aggressively pursue the clemency initiative he started in 2014.

In total, Obama has commuted the sentences of 1,023 inmates, more than any of the last 11 presidents combined. Most of the inmates were convicted of non-violent, low-level drug offenses.

Of the inmates who have been granted clemency under Obama, White House Counsel Neil Eggleston said 342 were serving life sentences. 

“We have two months left before the inauguration,” he said. “I anticipate we will keep going until the end.” 

Eggleston did not say how many more commutations will be granted, but Deputy Attorney General Sally Yates said the Department of Justice had about 6,300 petitions from non-violent drug offenders alone as of Aug. 31. 

She said the agency is on track to act make a recommendation on each of those petitions before Obama leaves office. 

In a Facebook post, Obama said it doesn’t serve taxpayers or public safety to put nonviolent drug offenders behind bars for decades. 

“At the heart of America is the idea that we're all imperfect. We all make mistakes,” he said. “We have to take responsibility and learn from those mistakes. And we as a society have to make sure that people who do take responsibility for their mistakes are able to earn a second chance to contribute to our communities and our country.” 

Last week, family members of incarcerated individuals delivered a petition with more than 2 million signatures to the Department of Justice urging Obama to speed up his rate of clemencies to ensure no one is left behind come Jan. 20.

Advocates fear the clemency initiative will end with Obama's administration, as there is no guarantee that President-elect Donald TrumpDonald John TrumpTrump defends Stephanopolous interview Trump defends Stephanopolous interview Buttigieg on offers of foreign intel: 'Just call the FBI' MORE will continue it. 

White the clemency initiative has been a priority of the current administration, Eggleston said he could not say what will happen under Trump. 

“I can’t speak to whether the next administration will have a similar enthusiasm,” he said. 

- Updated at 2:17 p.m.